Just last week, my professor’s icebreaker question at the beginning of our seminar was, “What is your guilty pleasure read?” The first thing that came to mind was The Heir Affair, a book that I had recently finished. But by the time it was my turn, I was angry. Why did I have to feel guilty about reading for pleasure? And why was it a female-centered narrative that first came to mind?
We’ve been conditioned in society to believe that reading “chick-lit” — a genre defined by scholar Caroline J. Smith as heroine-centered narratives focusing on the trials and tribulations of their protagonists — is something we should feel guilty about. Author Dana Schwartz penned an article for the Washington Post in 2018 titled “No, my book is not a ‘guilty pleasure’ just because I’m a woman.” Within it, Schwartz highlights a harmful, degrading phenomenon in the world of literature that makes it so difficult for female authors to overcome the expectation that “feminine” is antithetical to literary greatness. So let’s stop apologizing for wanting to read and discuss things that appeal to women (or to anyone for that matter). Let’s embrace romance and heartbreak, light-heartedness, and heavy-heartedness! Here are seven new and noteworthy books that deserve so much more than just being called “chick lit.”
- The Push by Ashley Audrain
Ashley Audrain’s debut novel delves into the not-so glamorous sides of marriage, motherhood, and womanhood. This psychological drama is a page-turner you will not be able to put down. Mysterious and thrilling, yet emotional and real, Audrain challenges what we think we know about womanhood, and it takes us into the mind of a woman who others doubt.
- One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
Fans of The Bachelor, this one’s for you! In this fun, new novel, Kate Stayman-London imagines a fictional dating show called Main Squeeze. Yet, she challenges the way we see Hollywood and reality television with a plus-sized protagonist, chosen to be the show’s equivalent of The Bachelorette. Stayman-London delightfully embraces the rom-com genre with a thriving, confident, and smart protagonist who unapologetically expresses her femininity while also looking for love.
- Vanishing Half by Brit Brennet
Brit Bennett is one of the most profound writers to break into the literary scene in recent years, and her second novel demonstrates just how exceptionally talented she is at capturing the nuances of femininity. The narrative centers on twins growing up in a small, southern Black community, and jumps from the 1950s to the 1990s to weave together the stories of multiple generations of women in the family. Bennett captures the experience of being a Black woman in America and the complicated relationship racialized women have with identity.
- She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh
Sarah Smarsh brilliantly chronicles the life and career of the iconic singer Dolly Parton, weaving in her own life experiences growing up in Kansas to articulate Parton’s influence on the lives of thousands of American women. An unconventional feminist, the book recounts how Parton broke down the barriers of a male-dominated industry and redefined what it meant to be a “girl singer,” using her songs to validate the voices of unheard women. This is a quick, insightful, and meaningful read.
- Long Bright River by Liz Moore
This thrilling novel follows two sisters who lives completely different lives in the same Philadelphia neighbourhood: one living on the streets dealing with addiction, the other a police officer patrolling the same blocks. Liz Moore’s characters are resilient and interesting; they are not stereotypes, but still represent experiences of motherhood, navigating a male-dominated profession, violence against women, and addiction. The novel is simultaneously heart-wrenching and moving, suspenseful and emotional.
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
In her second acclaimed novel, Yaa Gyasi once again captures the journey of a young woman discovering herself as a Ghanian immigrant in Alabama. Following a fifth-year neuroscience candidate at Stanford, Gyasi explores what it means to be dedicated to your work, what it means to be a woman in STEM, and what it means to balance these experiences while you care for a struggling family. Through the lens of science, Gyasi exquisitely captures the experience of discovering your identity as a young woman.
- Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Lily King’s acclaimed novel exemplifies what it means to write a vulnerable and relatable female protagonist. Following a novelist working in the restaurant industry to pay her bills, King’s character embodies the struggle to balance finding love, fulfilling creative ambitions, and finding success. This humourous and intelligent novel will pull at your heart and inspire you at the same time.
Forget the guilt and accept literature about women for what is: a cosmopolitan collection of stories from different genres, encapsulating the many, diverse experiences of women. On International Women’s Day, let’s proudly read these books and reclaim “chick-lit” as a genre of incredible reads for everyone to take to pleasure in.